Every time you visit your doctor, someone takes your blood pressure. An arm cuff tightens so much you worry your arm might burst, but then you can feel your pulse underneath and they listen quietly. What exactly are they listening for?

Systole vs. Diastole

Systole is the phase of your heartbeat when the cardiac muscle contracts. This is when you can feel your pulse or your heart beating. During systole, blood leaves the heart. Diastole is the period between contractions, when your heart is “resting.” During diastole, blood enters the chambers of the heart prior to being pumped out again.

Blood pressure: Top Number and Bottom Number

When a medical provider takes your blood pressure, the first beat they hear gives them the number they hear under the stethoscope should be higher (normal is considered around 120 or below). This is the pressure of your arteries when the heart contracts.

The last number the providers hears tells them the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting (normal is considered around 80 or below).

Why do the numbers matter?

If high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) goes unchecked, it can lead to heart attack or stroke, peripheral artery disease, or chest pain. Long term hypertension can damage arteries, making them less pliable. Cholesterol may also build up along artery walls, which then can impede blood flow.

We tend to focus on the top number of your blood pressure reading, but if the bottom number is above 100, this can be dangerous for your health. Damage from high blood pressure can take place over a long time, which is why it’s known as the “silent killer.” Many people have high blood pressure for months, maybe even years, and have no symptoms.

For more information on blood pressure ranges, visit the American Heart Association’s website!

Still have questions?

Contact us today! We can easily check your vital signs, including blood pressure, and can help get you going on a heart-healthy exercise plan.